On Monday April 20, 2010, the 17 month ordeal that followed the murder of Marcelo Lucero ended. Jeffrey Conroy, 19, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime. Finally for the Lucero family some peace and an end to this emotional roller coaster that has painfully consumed them for almost 2 years. After the verdict was read, Marcelo s mother said it was time for forgiveness.
This unfortunate tragedy became an international story. It is so much more than a hate crime that ended in a tragic loss of life. A weary jury convicted this young former athlete and high school student of this horrific crime. They did not convict him of murder. Based on testimony, they felt Mr. Conroy never intended to kill anyone.
During the trial, Mr. Conroy indicated that another young person in the group stabbed the victim and he was just covering for him. He contends that he is innocent of the crimes he was convicted of. He has indicated that he is not a racist or a violent person. Whether or not he is truly guilty as convicted; only God knows the truth!
However, what we do know because of this horrific ordeal where an innocent man was killed, there is something not right in our larger community among some of our young people. Hate and discrimination are infectiously present among us. A growing number of our young people are out of control and have no accountability. Violence is becoming a social behavior that is tolerated, and not confronted.
What has become very clear during the past 17 months is that we have consciously or unconsciously, tolerated an atmosphere of discrimination based on the color of a person s skin and/or their legal status. Color, ethnicity, religion, economics or sexual orientation should never color how we treat another human being. Hopefully, since that tragic night 17 months ago, where an Ecuadorian because of his color and ethnicity was ganged up on and killed, those in leadership are looking for more comprehensive ways to better educate our young and old alike on tolerance and respect for people s diversity.
There is something wrong with a society where teenagers go out looking for Latinos and attack them as a sport, as allegedly the teens arrested in the stabbing of Marcelo Lucero admitted to authorities.
Where do our young people learn such behaviors and attitudes? For the most part, our children are a reflection of us. We have to examine our behaviors, our conversations, and the things we say and fail to say in this regard. Clearly, our schools are not doing enough in regards to tolerance, bullying, racism and diversity. We need to do more. It must be consistent and comprehensive and our young people need to know that for every choice they make there will be a consequence that they will be held accountable for.
Since the trial and the verdict, much has been written about what the sentence should be not only for Jeffrey Conroy, but also for the band of the young men involved in this horrific circumstance. Sadly, much of the conversation has centered around punishment and making an example of this misguided group of young men.
Unfortunately, making an example of these young men is probably not going to deter other misguided teenagers from acting recklessly and hatefully. Most teenagers believe that they are invincible, and oftentimes above the law or that the law does not apply to them.
These young men are misguided and deeply troubled. They did not grow up in a vacuum. If we truly want to understand what went wrong, and the why and how come of their hateful behavior, we probably have to study more closely their environment and all of the variables that have shaped the persons they have become. That means a closer look at school, home, neighborhood and community.
Sending them to prison for an extensive period of time is not going to rehabilitate or change them. Our present criminal justice system is so broken and destructive that the best we can hope for is that when they are released they won t be hardened criminals.
If we really want to fix the problem and have any hope that six additional lives will not be totally wasted and destroyed, maybe we should begin with Mrs. Lucero s call for forgiveness. We should think outside the box and create a sentence that possibly could rehabilitate these young men to make a profound statement to our large community that racism and bigotry and intolerance are unacceptable behaviors.
A proposal to consider: a sentence of 10 to 25 years, however, after a year of incarceration and good behavior " they would finished their sentences with an alternative to imprisonment, that involves living in a long-term community residence that is therapeutically grounded, where these young men would have no personal freedoms, would have to work on their issues and give back to the community through supervised community service and labor. They would also be expected to make ongoing presentations around the County in our schools about hate and discrimination and talk about what they have done. If their behavior and cooperation were positive, they could continue and/or begin their own higher education so that they could make a positive contribution to our society when their sentence was complete. For the next 10 years they would be bound to send a specified amount of money from their earnings to Mrs. Lucero in Ecuador.
For some, this proposal sounds like a cakewalk. Trust me, a prison without bars in our culture in many ways is more painful than traditional incarceration. This approach will force the convicted to look at their lives and the tragic result of their reckless behavior on an ongoing basis. They will not have the freedom to hang out, to make phone calls, to use the Internet, to text message friends or listen to music. Every day, they would be challenged to look at their thinking and their behavior. If they re really sorry for what they caused and are open to changing their lives, maybe some important life lessons will be learned. If they don t get it and they don t make it, they will end up serving their sentence incarcerated in one of our horrific state prisons. That would be their choice!
This approach to sentencing will never bring back Marcelo Lucero, but maybe it will change some attitudes, especially within the young men responsible for his senseless death and give his mother some sense of peace that her son s death was not in vain.
I don t think were ready for this kind of radical alternative, but maybe it will at least give people some food for thought and begin an important conversation.